Some expressing distress at Okemos changing “Chiefs” nickname, others say its time

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 10:51 PM EDT
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OKEMOS, Mich. (WILX) - Frustrated people in Okemos are calling for the Board of Education to reconsider its decision to change the school district’s nickname. The board voted to get rid of the ‘Chiefs’ nickname in May.

Monday, parents attended the board meeting in protest.

Chris Nugent co-founded the Facebook group ‘Save Chief Okemos’ as an effort to encourage the school board to reconsider the change.

“I’ve talked to several Native Americans, a couple of which I grew up with that were as close as brothers to me,” Nugent said. “They did not find that term offensive.”

Dr. Aaron Payment, tribal chairperson of the Sault St. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians, disagrees. He says American Indians don’t like or need to be honored by other races.

“American Indians are not asking for any other race to take pity on us or to honor us,” Payment said. “We don’t need that. We don’t need that benevolence and we don’t need that pity.”

One resident, Joe Dzenowagis, says he’s grown up in Okemos his entire life and has always loved being a Chieftain. However, he understands the board’s decision to find a different nickname.

“I’ve always liked the name, but it’s a name,” Dzenowagis said. “We still respect Okemos heritage. It’s part of our history whether we change the name or not. So, let’s make people comfortable. Let’s make them feel included and feel a part of the community. Why not?”

School board member Jayme Taylor says she understands the concerns. However, she felt the vote for change was necessary.

Taylor said, “My vote actually was a hard one to come by. But, it was the right thing to do.”

With the new nickname selection the district will have to change all signage, uniforms and anything else with the old nickname. Those changes are estimated to cost roughly $500,000.

As News 10 reported in the past, the Okemos School Board hopes to adopt a new nickname and mascot by 2023.

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